Leicester City 0 - 2 Everton
As victories go, this one was sorely needed. Not just as a pick-me-up following more agony in the Merseyside derby but to address an away record that has been dragging Everton down since the unexpected reverse at Bournemouth in September.
It wasn’t pretty, especially in a dour first half, and it wasn’t completely convincing but Ronald Koeman’s side rediscovered some important aspects of their makeup and their play on their travels that could once again form the foundations of a charge for the European places.
Idrissa Gueye’s glaring miss aside, the Blues were clinical when they needed to be, defensively sound in defence of a narrow lead and comfortable between the posts thanks to an assured display by Joel Robles in goal. And in contrast to the over-reliance on going direct in recent games, particularly against Watford and Liverpool, they actually played some football on the deck at times, even if it was just to maintain possession while they tried to pick their way through the opposition.
Then there was the added injection of youth, from the start in the form of Mason Holgate who played on the right-hand side of a three-man back line, and then in the second half from Tom Davies who put in another precocious performance off the bench at a time when Everton needed some more energy in the middle of the park.
With Gareth Barry pushing 36 and Phil Jagielka a year behind him, a changing of the guard will need to take place in Koeman’s team and there was a sense this afternoon that that is now underway. Both veterans will have roles to play as the second half of the season unfolds but Koeman is hopefully now grooming their successors, handing them more game time and more responsibility.
His Everton side will, of course, need more than a smattering of youth to get where it needs to go under his stewardship and the first 45 minutes at the King Power Stadium were a stark illustration. The visitors started with purpose but quickly found their hosts frustratingly hard to break down as Claudio Ranieri, knowing that his opposition is no longer the passing, possession-based outfit they were under Roberto Martinez, had his charges dropping back into an effective blue wall that collapsed the space and snapped into tackles to snuff out any move before it could threaten their goal.
To be fair, Everton’s defence was similarly effective at the other end in the early going but by the midway point of the first period, the Foxes were on top and the Blues found themselves hemmed into their own half for spells. With so little creativity in the line-up, almost nothing was worked through the middle; instead, almost everything was channelled through Seamus Coleman down a congested right flank where debutant Ben Chilwell was a particularly effective bulwark against the visitors’ attacks.
Ranieri’s men had little to show for their relative dominance, however, beyond some “sighters” from 20-plus yards. Robles made a comfortable save to stop one from Daniel Amartey while Demarai Gray finished a counter-attack by firing wide and Islam Slimani hammered another effort well off target from a similar range.
For Everton, Romelu Lukaku was cutting a familiarly isolated figure up front and his only hint of an opening came from an angled ball forward from Barry that almost put him in past the last defender before the opportunity was snuffed out. Ramiro Funes Mori headed over after a 42nd-minute corner had been cleared back to Kevin Mirallas and Leighton Baines almost found the Belgian’s toe with a raking shot-cum-cross in first-half stoppage time.
Koeman has spoken of his side maybe needing a little luck to lift them out of the doldrums and a little came six minutes into the second half just when Evertonian thoughts were drifting towards the substitutes’ bench and musing about what changes could come from there.
Robles swept a long pass over the Leicester defence, catching both Marcin Wasilewski and Wes Morgan on their heels for a crucial split second as Mirallas raced onto it. Taking a touch wide of the goalkeeper, the Belgian looked to slot it past him and his shot was helped into the net by Wasilewski’s foot as he slid in to try and block it. 1-0 and Everton were on their way to three points.
That they secured it owed much to some committed defending, led by the rock solid Ashley Williams at the heart of the Blues rearguard and some pleasingly strong goalkeeping by Robles. The Spaniard wouldn’t be tested much beyond a close-range Leonardo Ulloa that was as close as the Foxes came to equalising but his positioning and dominance in the air was first rate.
Helped by that defensive resilience and the introduction of Davies, Everton refused to allow the kind of fightback from 2-0 down that Leicester pulled off against Stoke last weekend. The 18-year-old even provided some threat going forward, bouncing one shot narrowly wide and then forced a low save from Kasper Schmeichel before Ross Barkley replaced Mirallas to give Leicester one more problem to worry about.
The 23-year-old was involved in what was arguably Everton’s best move of the match seven minutes from time as he released Lukaku down the right and the striker crossed to meet the run of the on-rushing Gueye. Sadly, the Senegalese, on the slide, could only steer the ball over the bar with the goal gaping in front of him.
Instead it was left to Lukaku to kill the game in the first minute of stoppage time as only he can. Outmuscling Morgan in a challenge for a long clearance from the edge of the Blues’ box, he tore away from the defender, feinted to the left of Wasilewski and tucked his shot inside the post before knee-sliding in celebration at his 10th goal of the season.
What had threatened to be another tedious and frustrating afternoon had finished with a professional away performance, Everton ending a three-month wait for an away win and the feeling of a whole lift around the club heading into the final match of the year against bottom of the table Hull.
Grind another win there, follow it up with another three points against Southampton and then start making some astute moves in the transfer market and, all of a sudden, 2016-17 starts to hold promise again that Koeman’s first season in charge will come to represent huge improvement on what came before.
Reader Comments (37)
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1 Posted 27/12/2016 at 08:33:20
Let's hope the players gain some much needed confidence from this display, taking into account a familiar lethargic first half performance. Let's hope another Lukaku goal keeps his detractor's quiet for another couple of days or so.
The way he brushed aside the 'man mountain' Wes Morgan was a joy to watch. I'm still of the opinion that, in a better team, with someone alongside him, he would be a more consistent force.
Onwards and upwards.
2 Posted 27/12/2016 at 08:33:57
3 Posted 27/12/2016 at 08:36:05
4 Posted 27/12/2016 at 08:39:37
I really enjoyed watching Tom Davies play in the second half. There was a moment when he tried to release Lukaku with a pass with the outside of his right foot. That was pure class.
With McCarthy injured and Barry not able to play twice in a week, I hope Koeman starts with Gana and Davies in the middle against Hull.
5 Posted 27/12/2016 at 08:43:50
We need a 'real' play maker plus a Vardy type of second striker who can hit double figures each season. Defensively we do seem to find youngsters but creativity and goal scoring is another matter. I reckon Holgate will eventually make the first team and replace the Stones loss.
Perhaps young Davies can develop in midfield and save us some money. It is a great shame that Bolasie suffered his horrendous injury as it leaves us short out wide. Let's hope that Mirallas has a much better end to this season and finds a few goals as Lukaku is our only threat up front.
7 Posted 27/12/2016 at 08:59:39
8 Posted 27/12/2016 at 09:11:20
9 Posted 27/12/2016 at 10:55:17
Ideal ball for him from our young midfielder, Barkley.
10 Posted 27/12/2016 at 11:01:07
I believe most Evertonians see it this way.
Great 3 points, by the way.
11 Posted 27/12/2016 at 11:20:14
Is my recently increased alcohol consumption helping me to be more optimistic, or have we genuinely improved?
12 Posted 27/12/2016 at 11:37:49
All-in-all, if it wasn't for an injury time spawny goal, we'd have 7 from the last 9. I'd happily swap defeats to Arsenal and Leicester for a win against our lovable neighbours though!!
Footy ain't great at the moment but some good recent results.
13 Posted 27/12/2016 at 11:43:07
The game against Hull has come at just the right time. Stick with the same players from yesterday, please.
14 Posted 27/12/2016 at 12:05:46
The simplest difference is that we are both conceding fewer and scoring fewer. The real difference is that this season is that an ageing and underperforming the team is being slowly rebuilt. The dismal first half showed how far we have to go.
The better second (resilient defence, promising youngsters) shows the potential. We have to be patient this is a transition season.
15 Posted 27/12/2016 at 12:17:48
He can feel a bit hard done by if he does get dropped it won't be the first time over the last couple of years where he's done his job and been rewarded by watching Star Jump Tim and the Stek ship the goals in.
16 Posted 27/12/2016 at 12:28:28
I have just watched the highlights of yesterdays game on sky, albeit only about 20-25 minutes worth. Out of interest, I made a note of the touches Lukaku had.
In the first half he won one clear header and lost one clear header. He had two good controls of the ball and no poor controls. There were three good passes to a teammate with no poor passes to a teammate.
In the second half, the highlights showed one good control of the ball, with no bad ones. Three good passes to a teammate, one which should have led to a goal and one bad pass. His goal he obviously created for himself.
I know this is only a small reflection on the game, and indeed it's ONLY one game, but it appears to show his control and aerial ability is not as bad as people make out, but I agree that it could be better.
I was at the game yesterday and obviously can't remember every single touch, pass and header by Lukaku. There may well have been other good and bad touches, passes etc, just as in other games where he has good and bad moments but hey, nobody's perfect!!
17 Posted 27/12/2016 at 13:32:38
I for one don't like my strikers to be "hard workers"; it reminds me of Marcus Bent & Andy Johnson; we become more obsessed with them running the channels rather than doing what we want them to do be ready and available to score when they are presented with the opportunity.
Lineker (in my opinion) was a pretty average player; didn't like a tackle, wasn't a target man, didn't hold up play and could barely make a pass. He did however have Graeme Sharp supporting him and a midfield that supplied him. Most importantly, he scored goals.
That's what Rom does. Could he score more? Of course, but then again, name me a striker who couldn't if we're going to analyse them critically.
Separate point but what a great pick from Barkley at the end. I read on another link that someone believed it to be a lucky punt (referring to him as a horse in the same sentence)! Whilst I'm pretty sure he wasn't thinking his pass would create a goal, he done what most of us have been screaming out for our players to do; protect a slim lead in the dying moments.
Has the ball in our box, spots Lukaku in the opposition half and plays it to him. Sensible & clever play to retain possession but more importantly, thinking percentages in terms of territory vice playing in an area that can hurt us should it not come off. He gets enough stick on here but credit where its due for showing maturity. The goal was just a bonus.
Finally I hope Leon Osman was watching the 2nd after his pre-match comments on 5-live yesterday regarding Rom and not showing his physicality enough! Valid point but that was Lukaku at his best IMO.
18 Posted 27/12/2016 at 13:36:31
19 Posted 27/12/2016 at 13:42:10
We're going round screaming in frustration about losing the derby game ... yet we have 6 points!!
Robles is better than Stekelenburg. Tom Davies is the future.
If Rom scored all the goals he is capable of; he would have been sold to Barca, Real, Bayern or PSG for 㿼m long ago.
Rob... you need to get out more!
Happy Christmas, everyone!
20 Posted 27/12/2016 at 13:46:44
22 Posted 27/12/2016 at 14:35:08
23 Posted 27/12/2016 at 14:42:52
24 Posted 27/12/2016 at 15:03:01
25 Posted 27/12/2016 at 15:09:58
When you mention Barkley's pass (not punt) to Lukaku, well, that passage of play illustrates perfectly what Ross is all about. Looks up, sees Lukaku and hits a first time peach of a pass without having time to think.
Acting on instinct, Barkley really is a diamond, put him in a team with zero movement where he HAS to dwell on the ball and he looks a poor player. Let's play to his strengths, not his weaknesses.
26 Posted 27/12/2016 at 15:28:08
Once again, a dire first half and, once again, Lukaku isolated. Surely Koeman must have realised that Rom isn't a Costa or Mark Hughes, shielding the ball back to goal and laying it off to the runners, he isn't a John Fashanu or Big Dunc, who relishes aerial battles, but get him running onto a ball and he's a world beater.
Also that Barry, a true professional and a credit to the game, but cannot compete any longer in midfield and that Davies needs to be integrated into the first team.
Also, we look better as a counter-attacking side, and it must be remembered that last season we had the 2nd highest goals for until the wheels fell off, and if Bobby wouldn't have been so obsessed with possession and a total disregard for defence we might've got a Champions League spot.
Maybe what we needed was a pragmatist who would only have tinkered at the margins; accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, latch on to the affirmative, but FFS don't mess with Mister In-Between where's Bing when you need him.
27 Posted 27/12/2016 at 15:36:05
I haven't watched us lately... wow, were we poor until we scored. Complete absence of any proper football, zero creativity, no shots on goal and Leicester were no better.
Lukaku, I've given up on him running about and pressing from the front, waste of time and energy. Play the ball for him to run onto and we have a player, that's his strength. Lumping it up to him with expectations of him holding it up or flicking it on are pointless, that's not his game.
We were set up to defend yesterday and maybe nick a goal on the break through individual skill. There was nothing on show to demonstrate what happens at Finch Farm during the week, no joined-up footy around the opposition box.
Route one for our first, great finish by Kev. Lukaku's goal summed him up, brilliant play and cool finish. In many respects it was a great performance and result, away at the Champions who'd beat Man City 4-2 previous game.
Holgate has to start, he's a player. Williams was awesome yesterday, more of that please and if it means playing three at the back to get that level of performance then cool. Funes Mori, a player I think will do something daft in a game, is looking more and more like a decent defender so happy days.
Our forward play is terrible, no support for the player with the ball, lack of bodies in the box, usually one option to pass to hence the ball often goes back. Easy to be critical of Mirallas and Lennon but their duties were mainly to defend. Seamus did okay but a lack of end product let him down whilst Baines rarely had anyone to pass to. Special note to their left back, cracking game from the lad.
Davies came on and added energy, flair and movement, he could start. But the player who stood out for me was Barkley, he brought a composure on the ball and whilst he didn't do anything amazingly standout, he just looked like the best player on the pitch.
Finally a special word for Robles, what a lovely sight to see a keeper come and get the ball, didn't look troubled throughout the game, long may that continue.
Hope everyone had a cracking Christmas.
28 Posted 27/12/2016 at 15:48:19
30 Posted 27/12/2016 at 17:52:59
Hopefully he's not going to become one of those pundits that spends most of his time criticising his ex-mates just to get air time, Brian.
31 Posted 27/12/2016 at 18:16:54
Even though both Coleman and Baines were given the opportunity to get forward and attack the opposition with so much cover at the back of them, they failed to make a positive contribution, with both unable to find crosses for Lukaku and Mirallas to latch on to.
But special praise must go to Holgate, who plays as though he has been a first team player for years. Nothing appears to faze him. What ever Barnsley are doing with their academy players, they sure breathe confidence into them. Stones now Holgate are very confident and intelligent players thanks to Barnsley's coaching staff.
33 Posted 27/12/2016 at 18:54:09
Introduce them gradually over time and wait until they are experienced enough to take the mantle. Freaks (in the nicest possible sense) like Rooney are few and far between.
If you noticed yesterday, a cross came in and despite Williams screaming & pointing for the line to be held, Holgate sat deep and played Ulloa onside (first mistake). He then missed the header (second mistake) allowing Ulloa to have a freebie on goal.
Fortunately Robles was well positioned to gather. The lad has undoubted potential but he got away with that. He is learning but like others, play them week in week out for 90 minutes; expect mistakes from young players.
I'm sorry but I revert back to a previous comparison of nations' approach to the introduction of young players. England play a higher percentage of players with an average age of 21 than Germany and Spain; who is more successful in developing genuine top class players? They nurture them properly and introduce them as regulars when they are ready, not when the masses demand.
That's my rant at English football, Steavey, not you; I agree with your post!!
34 Posted 27/12/2016 at 19:02:00
35 Posted 27/12/2016 at 19:17:47
Hey, he's a great young player who I hope goes on to be a great Everton player. All I'm saying is play young players then expect mistakes. I'm comfortable with that but accept you nurture them.
Otherwise, we ruin them... like we are on the verge of doing with Ross before he's had the chance to be developed properly.
36 Posted 27/12/2016 at 19:25:29
I wanted Koeman and yes I have been disappointed with quite a few of our performances. But he has now had a few months to assess what he has got and were he needs to improve. Plus it is only a few months since we appointed Steve Walsh, and it will have taken time for him and Koeman to decide what type of players they are looking for.
Then having identified the type of players getting them can be a whole different ball game as they found out in the last window.
Certainly the last 3 games, we have seen the team play at a higher tempo and close down a lot quicker. But adapting to a new system takes time, Most would accept that it would be a decent first season if we get 7th so lets see if we can finish there.
But as Mourhino is finding out, even with a massive warchest it takes time to change the mentality of players, also he had a better squad to start with and then spent a fortune. But there is no guarantee that they will qualify for a Champions League spot.
37 Posted 27/12/2016 at 22:01:48
Holgate was solid (mostly...), and Davies on later was wonderful. As has been mentioned elsewhere, Koeman should field 1-2 youngsters every game; both too blood them, but also to keep the more complacent first-teamers on their toes!
Say what you will about experience, hunger is an even better motivator!
38 Posted 28/12/2016 at 00:23:34
39 Posted 28/12/2016 at 12:35:06
40 Posted 29/12/2016 at 18:49:28
41 Posted 30/12/2016 at 01:08:40
Thanks for sharing.
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